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July 27, 2010 > Namesake's daughter visits Korematsu campus

Namesake's daughter visits Korematsu campus

By Robin Michel
Photos By Robin Michel

Tuesday afternoon, Karen Korematsu, daughter of heroic civil rights advocate Fred T. Korematsu, received a tour of the new San Leandro High School ninth grade campus named after her father-after making a brief drive past the new Arts Education Center on the main campus.

"I thought that was the Fred T. Korematsu campus," she laughed, "and wondered how it could possibly get finished in time for the first day of school."

She need not worry. The new ninth grade campus was buzzing with activity, including the building of a student gathering place in the courtyard that will serve as a mini-amphitheatre or outdoor classroom, testing of the elevator and other electrical systems, and final landscaping touches.

Ms. Korematsu, a designer very familiar with construction sites and building design, and Project Manager Dave Harding, Harris & Associates, enjoyed talking shop during the tour. Throughout the tour, Ms. Korematsu asked thoughtful and knowledgeable questions, expressing surprise and delight over the high quality work and level of detail.

"My father was a structural engineer," said Ms. Korematsu as her eyes swept over the dramatic angular steel canopy adjacent to the new serving kitchen at the San Leandro High School Fred T. Korematsu Campus. "He would have loved this!"

In addition to the classroom building and serving kitchen, the new campus has an outdoor seating area for lunch, a staff courtyard, and a beautiful gymnasium with the San Leandro High School pirates logo painted on the floor in vibrant colors. Harding said that the artist who painted the logo turned out to be the same artist who painted the logo at the main campus many years earlier.

The classroom building contains 29 classrooms, an office and reception area, and a beautiful library. Ms. Korematsu noted the library's vibrant colors and the attention to detail of the ceiling. Later, during a visit to one of four science labs she expressed delight, saying that her mother had a Masters in microbiology. "These labs are not what you would expect for ninth grade," she said. "More what you would find at the college level. These students are so very fortunate to have equipment like this."

The San Leandro High School Fred T. Korematsu Campus will open its doors to incoming freshmen on August 25. A celebration and community tours will take place in September. The Board voted to name the campus after Mr. Korematsu in December. Several in the community suggested this naming, noting his deep commitment to social justice, as well as his dedication to the San Leandro community, including his 30-year service through the San Leandro Lions Club and two terms as president.

A Japanese-American, Mr. Korematsu was 22 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the military to require all Japanese Americans removed from designated "military areas" and placed in internment. Mr. Korematsu refused, and was later arrested in San Leandro, where his family owned a nursery. He was convicted of violating the wartime order and sent to the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Korematsu filed a lawsuit arguing that his constitutional rights had been violated, but the court ruled against him. Mr. Korematsu appealed his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction in 1944, stating that his internment was due to military necessity and "not... because of hostility to him or his race."

It took 40 years for Mr. Korematsu to clear his name. In 1998, Mr. Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Bill Clinton, in 1998. Until his death in 2005, Mr. Korematsu continued to speak out against all manner of injustice. In the aftermath of 9/11, when the government claimed authority to detain both citizens and non-citizens indefinitely and without charge as "enemy combatants," Mr. Korematsu saw the dangerous parallels to his own experience, and in 2004 he filed an amicus curiae brief in the case of Rumsfield v. Padilla, which stated, "by allowing the Executive Branch to decide unilaterally who to detain, and for how long, our country will repeat the same mistakes of the past."

Superintendent Cindy Cathey said that naming the new ninth grade campus after Fred T. Korematsu provides students a deeper connection to the past, rich educational opportunities, and a daily reminder of what one person can do in the fight against social injustice. "Our district is committed to social justice and equity for all students. The school's name reflects that commitment, and the new comprehensive campus provides a safety net for our 9th grade students at one of the most critical junctures of academic life. I want to thank the San Leandro community for supporting our students and look forward to touring the new campus with them when it is completed."

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